The Governance of Labor Market Politics through Street Level Organizations

Sunday, June 26, 2016: 10:45 AM-12:15 PM
88 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Peter Kupka, Institute for Employment Research, Nuremberg, Germany
Christopher Osiander, Institute for Employment Research (IAB), Nuernberg, Germany
In 2005, Germany established a new welfare-to-work system that is based on politics of activation using an approach aptly described as “carrots and sticks”. The regulation regime codified in Social Code II (Basic Income for Job Seekers) applies to a heterogeneous clientele which includes all job seekers who are able to work at least three hours a day and who are not eligible to benefits of the labor market insurance. Benefits are tax-based and means-tested; job seekers are required to search for a job intensely and accept almost every job offer.

In evaluating this system, much emphasis has been put on the effectiveness of programs such as wage subsidies, training measures and subsidized work schemes. However, the role of regulation and governance in providing labor market services has rarely been analyzed: What you see on the level of policies and labor market programs may not be what you get on the street-level of service provision.

The role of street-level service delivery has thus gained increasing attention in German labor market research. Following the ideas of street-level bureaucracy (Lipsky) and street-level organizations (Brodkin), we will describe organizational and occupational contexts of delivering labor market policies. The street-level organizations within the welfare-to-work regime are Jobcenters. Three quarters of them are joint ventures of municipalities and the local labor agency. Occupational aspects of the case workers discussed here are their occupational identities and attitudes towards clients which affect the way they treat them.

In analyzing the front-line work of case workers within the regulation regime of the basic income for job seekers, we will focus on quality and intensity of service provision, in particular processes of counselling and job placement. The results show that the complexity and severity of problems clients of local Jobcenters carry with them often overstrain case workers’ skills and capacity to solve problems. We will then turn to the role of so-called integration agreements (target agreements between Jobcenters and job seekers) which were meant to strengthen clients’ role and promote interaction on eye-level between clients and case workers. Instead, they turned out to be bureaucratic instruments, fostering monitoring rather than participation. Furthermore, the role of sanctions and the attitudes of case workers towards them are addressed. Sanctions enhance the Janus-headed role of case workers, may undermine a trustful work relation and have severe side effects that contradict their intended function to assure clients’ compliance with the rules.

The German case shows, that despite high density of regulations, the role of street-level staff in the governance of labor market policy should not be underestimated and may ultimately alter the policy itself. Even though they are integrated in a regime that includes aspects of policy, organization and occupation, case workers have individual discretion by choosing the topics they address, by deciding about using more client oriented or more institution oriented approaches and even by bending the rules when institutional requirements appear too harsh.